Living in the Lap of Luxury
Scripps-Howard News Service 1.16.02
Just how rich are we?
Last Friday, two former cheerleaders of the Philadelphia Eagles
appeared with their attorney on NBC-Today to tell Katie Couric about
the law suit they had filed against 29 - that's twenty-nine - NFL
teams across the country. The complaint: holes in the door of the
visiting teams' lounge, affording a peep to the changing room of
the cheerleaders - not only used, but anticipated as a perk for
the athletes arriving to play the home team.
Lest it become all too clear that dipping into 29 deep pockets
is the objective, much is made of the acknowledgment of wrongdoing
and attendant apology being sought. All that is very much in vogue
these days, and I must not be out of step with the times. Therefore:
I confess that in 1952, when I was 16, the Music Academy sent me
to a youth camp in Fonyód, a resort on the shores of Lake
Balaton (the "Hungarian sea"), along with half-a-dozen
other students, for a two-week vacation. Every day, we went to the
lakeside where a row of cabins facilitated the change into bathing
suits. One morning, an older colleague burst out of our cabin as
the rest of us waited in line. "There's a hole in the wall,"
he related breathlessly, "and a very good-looking woman is
stark naked on the other side." In the turmoil that followed,
I, too, took my turn at the peephole to verify the details already
described by our observant colleague.
In acknowledging the injury to the woman in question, I ask - should
these lines come to her attention - that she afford me an opportunity
to apologize, as well as the attempt to settle the damages out of
Alas, this would not have been necessary in Hungary. Everyone was
way too poor to be offended. One has to be wealthy to be offended
by the things we find offensive these days. And we in America are
unbelievably wealthy. We can devote time and energy to the most
incredibly irrelevant things, and money is no object. Everything
comes out of our GDP (gross domestic product) and, believe me, such
things simply could not be funded if we were not rich.
How rich? Look at it this way. While the country was being built,
people had to do things that a) society needed, and b) they knew
how to do well. At times, like the Great Depression, many had to
do things well below their qualifications, just to survive. By the
1960s, though, America had reached the highest plateau of prosperity
known up to that time. The generation that grew up to live on that
plateau saw it fit to change the terms drastically, and their parents
did not have the heart to stop them.
Increasingly, the new generation demanded admission to courses
of study, then employment, in areas of endeavor for which they were
neither particularly suited nor well qualified, and for which society
certainly had no need. A growing proportion of Americans began to
do things simply because they wanted to do them. Their demand to
be supported as students and, later, to be compensated as employees
for such things rested on the premise that discrimination in the
past had prevented them from doing whatever they presently wished
Now it is true that discrimination, as well as traditional arrangements
in society, had prevented some from doing things for which they
would have been well qualified. It is also true that, right around
the 1960s, circumstances changed. Notably, black Americans could
no longer be denied equal opportunity, and women were liberated
- no, not by feminists, but by the ingenuity of inventors who provided
labor-saving devices for the household in a blinding succession.
What followed was not simply the doors finally opening for everyone
needed and qualified, but a headlong rush to indulge all who had
been provided legal grounds for a discrimination suit. And the army
of these has been growing all the time.
We have so much spare capacity, we can function regardless. But
the percentage of persons doing things society does not need, or
being employed despite incompetence, is constantly rising. Unintended
consequence: because white males still have to meet tough standards,
they will likely remain far more competitive then the various protected
groups. No matter. If the latter continue to do as they please,
it will destroy our prosperity, our collective vitality.
Until then, though, former cheerleaders of Philadelphia, sue the
daylight out of the NFL. We feel your pain.